Away from home: New market arises for AirBnBs

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Although many AirBnB reservations have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new market is emerging.

Westfield resident Jeff Boller owns an AirBnB rental near downtown Westfield, and a man recently booked the house for two weeks to self-isolate. Employees are sometimes unable to self-isolate in their own homes for fear of exposing someone who may be more at risk of infection.

“We did get a reservation from a gentleman who works at Amazon and whose daughter is a toddler and has an autoimmune disorder,” Boller said. “So, because he is working 12-hour days since Amazon is considered essential, he needs an isolation house so that he can go somewhere and sleep while he’s not at work without him having the danger of infecting his daughter.”

Boller said because of the close working quarters at Amazon, and the fact several Amazon employees across the nation have tested positive for COVID-19, the man wanted to self-isolate. He booked for two weeks with the possibility of extending his stay.

“I imagine he probably will extend,” Boller said. “At first, we weren’t able to extend him because we had somebody else booked that following weekend, but they’ve since canceled.”

Boller estimates approximately 50 percent of bookings are from people visiting the city for Grand Park events. With so many cancelations, he’s decided to waive cancelation fees.

“We just don’t feel like (cancelation fees) are right. It’s not something they, that our guests, could have foreseen,” Boller said. “Most of the time if somebody does cancel, we give them either half back and then it’s on a declining scale, so it depends on when they canceled. At the very most, they only get half of their reservation money back, but we are waiving all that and giving everybody all their money back because it’s not their fault.

“They didn’t have anything to do with this.”

Boller bought the house in 2017 and rehabilitated it, then christened it The Grand. He has used it as an AirBnb ever since.

Depending on how the pandemic plays out in Indiana, Boller said he might still be able to book during Grand Park’s summer season.

“It really depends on when our cases peak,” Boller said. “Right now, they’re saying cases may peak mid-April, and if that happens and by mid-May we see some easing of cases, I think they will start to open up June and July and August for those events. We have talked to several people, and everybody is very anxious right now on a number of different levels. One, they’re anxious about virus, but two, they are anxious because these are sports people and this is what they live for.

“A lot of people live for this, being able to get out and watch their kids participate in sports, and it really hurts them. They feel like a big part of their life has been taken away, so these people want to come but, obviously, they know that right now they can’t, and so it hurts on a number of different levels.”

Isolation houses for nurses

Another market group for AirBnBs is nursing. Jeff Boller owns one AirBnB and manages another in Westfield. The one he manages can sleep as many as 30 people.

“It has been hit a lot worse, obviously, because it holds a lot more people, so while my house (The Grand) is not ideally positioned as an isolation house, it is more so because it’s only a three-bed, two-bath house,” Boller said.

A house that sleeps 30 is tougher to rent out during the pandemic, but Boller said nurses can use the space.

“There are a lot of AirBnBs becoming isolation houses for nurse teams, and so I think there’s a lot more opportunity out there to keep our nurses and our doctors isolated because they’re on the front lines and, unfortunately, have the biggest risk factor,” Boller said.




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